Does huddling with Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) and former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan to discuss ways to topple Donald Trump amount to a “disqualifying moment” for four Republican presidential candidates within a party whose grassroots is dominated by supporters of the former president? This is a question now facing a handful of 2024 GOP hopefuls including the former governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley.
The pair of persistent GOP establishment Trump foes hosted a two-day private “summit” in Park City, Utah, on Oct. 10-11 devoted to identifying anyone who could possibly become the 2024 Republican presidential nominee besides the man they so despise. While such antics are hardly new for Romney and Ryan, the fact that they were able to attract four current aspirants to their affair is rather head-scratching.
What Do These Two Have to Offer?
In May, before he decided to retire from the Senate at the end of his first term, Liberty Nation mulled Romney’s chances of surviving a primary challenge in Utah. A key point of consideration: did it even matter? By presenting himself as the face of pre-2016 Republican establishment politics, Romney had made himself almost insignificant on Capitol Hill. “Did Mitt Romney go to Washington to be nothing more than an upper chamber version of Adam Kinzinger or Liz Cheney?” we asked. “Beyond the built-in dominant media praise, what exactly is the reward? Cheney was routed in a Republican primary last year as she strove to cling to her Wyoming House seat, while Kinzinger, seeing the handwriting on the wall, retired.”
This was also the reason for House Speaker Ryan’s withdrawal from elective office in 2018. He had little genuine base of supporters within the party to rely on, relegating him to always being in a position of weakness when it came to molding the ideological direction of the GOP during the Trump administration. What exactly, then, would inspire a 2024 Republican presidential candidate to seek the blessing of these two toppled politicos?
That former Trump Vice President Mike Pence and ex-New Jersey Governor Chris Christie would trek out to Utah is not particularly surprising. Both are political lifers running in an anti-Trump lane that simply does not exist outside the fantasies of the DC Swamp. Hanging out with Romney and Ryan merely amounts to more wheel-spinning without purpose. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum also made the trip. A Hail Mary candidate to begin with, Burgum’s campaign probably sees it as a case of anything that could garner attention is worth doing. That won’t be accomplished at Camp Mittens Romney, but what does he have to lose?
Another Nikki Haley Tactical Error
The fourth GOP hopeful to accept the Romney-Ryan invitation is perhaps a bit more mystifying, but it shouldn’t be. Nikki Haley has flittered for seven solid years now, ever since Trump first captured the White House, trying to decide whether she is better off uncomfortably embracing the MAGA movement or firmly positioning herself as the first post-Trump party alternative.
In doing so, she has displayed indecisiveness, awkward opportunism, and a basic lack of political smarts. Shortly after Jan. 6, 2021, when progressive establishment Trump bashing was at a zenith, she hopped aboard the loaded “insurrectionist” narrative. “I think he’s going to find himself further and further isolated,” she told Politico in a notorious interview, referring to Trump. “He’s not going to run for federal office again… I don’t think he’s going to be in the picture…. I don’t think he can. He’s fallen so far.”
The words immediately blew up in her face, to the point where she was soon pining for a meeting with Trump to repair the public damage. It was a political miscalculation triggered by the overheated mood of a moment. That same Politico article presented this as a Haley trademark. She “has liabilities,” author Tim Alberta told the news site. “What I’ve heard again and again is that Haley’s raw skills obscure an absence of core beliefs and a lack of tactical thinking.” “Nikki is motivated by instinct, and a lot of times when she’s out on the stump, or in a certain environment, and she feels like saying something, that emotion takes over, and she loses herself in the moment,” ex-Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey added. “She can be a tremendous messenger, because of her natural talent. But she doesn’t take well to a lot of coaching.”
That lack of emotional control comes across in her foreign policy utterances, which often go beyond aggressive to approaching the hysterical. Haley makes no bones about supporting an interventionist agenda that critics can easily label as neoconservative. But she frequently boosts these naysayers all the more by transforming into a caricature with her bloodthirsty verbiage. Haley was at it again as carnage in the Gaza Strip broke out. “This is not just an attack on Israel. This is an attack on America,” she thundered on Fox News, stressing the need to expand the conflict on an alarming scale. “I say this to [Israeli] Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu: Finish them. Finish them. Hamas did this. You know Iran is behind it. Finish them.”
It cannot be overstated how much of a self-inflicted wound identifying with the Romney-Ryan orbit is for a 2024 GOP presidential contender. The sheer sense of total denial of the political realities of today leaps out in local news coverage of the event by Utah newspaper The Deseret News.
“When they ran in 2012, Romney and Ryan were known for their free-market, fiscally conservative positions, which were the dominant positions among Republican voters and candidates at the time,” the paper wrote. “That shifted after the election of Trump in 2016, who brought a more populist message to the GOP, along with blue-collar voters who had traditionally voted for Democrats.”
That is accurate. What follows is not:
“‘I think our party has multiple personality disorder,” [Romney] said…. We don’t know what we are or what we stand for within our party right now.’
Ryan echoed Romney’s concerns, and his take on the Democratic Party, saying he tells his progressive friends they have a harder mess to clean up than Republicans because their base is battling from an ideological standpoint, while Republicans are battling a cult of personality around Trump.
‘But it’s frankly not that simple,’ Ryan said. ‘What does the Republican Party, the conservative movement, look like after this?’”
All these years later, the Never-Trump Republicans still refuse to believe Trump supporters have real beliefs while clinging to the daydream that they represent a “movement.” The Mitt Romneys and Paul Ryans within the GOP establishment nexus desperately want to believe that the Trump phenomenon is nothing more than a “cult of personality.” That’s because to acknowledge otherwise is to see the rise of this young political juggernaut as what it largely is – a stern rejection of everything they are about.
For Nikki Haley, it is another tactical mistake of the first order at a time when she can least afford to make such capital errors.